Tronn on our farmland near the South Saskatchewan River
I have just returned from another short hiatus from work and my regular life to be at my Dad's farm in Saskatchewan. I don't normally make as many trips as I have recently, but my brother passed away 6 weeks ago, 2 days short of his 44th birthday.
He was my only sibling and a gem of a human. The only “Tronn 'TK' Tomtene” in the world. He would be there to help anyone if he was able to and had one of the softest hearts I know. I am dedicating this instalment to him.
My brother was an alcoholic and had battled with it since he was 17. I don't envy one single person who has this disease or knows or loves someone with it. I have gone through many stages with him over the years: I enabled, tried tough love, chastised him, coddled him, went to bat for him, empathized, blamed him, drew boundaries, protected him, sympathized, LOVED him and was so frustrated with him at times. The hardest part was trying to separate the human that I knew before this all started from the human that he became at times.
Tronn passed away from liver cirrhosis and suffered from depression and anxiety (due to late childhood trauma).
I ask myself over and over again, what more could I have done to save my brother? When we were at the hospital, I asked his friend, who Tronn had been in rehab with years ago and was still sober, “Why are you sitting in this chair and my brother is in that hospital bed?" He said, “You have to REALLY want to get sober.”
Thing is, I do feel like my brother wanted it. He had tried over and over and over again, but I think at a certain point, his brain and his body weren't even capable of battling the demons anymore.
I have been told for the past 27 years of my brother’s alcoholism that tough love, not enabling and him hitting rock bottom were the only ways he would recover. I am not so sure this viewpoint is the right one anymore. Maybe for some, but not all.
I certainly think the onus is on them to make the decision and the effort to get better, but there is so much research that shows that the part of the brain that would normally cause people to control their impulses is impaired in an addict, along with decision making and many other areas. Perhaps we all can’t be captains of our own ships?
We need to treat it like we treat other diseases - with treatment, awareness and compassion.
The question is then, how do you show compassion but at the same time not allow an addict to be a victim and/or avoid responsibility for their actions? This is the question I have been battling my whole life and I still don't know what the right answer is or what I would/could have done differently.
No matter how I sliced it, I kept losing. My Dad, my Mom and all those who tried so desperately to help him kept losing. He kept losing.
It has been a complicated grieving process and hard to sort out. It is impossible to not feel guilt and sadness over would haves, could haves and should haves, but I have to believe that this journey was one that Tronn or a higher power chose. That he needed to go on this ride to learn and evolve, which he wouldn't have if he were handed an easy peasy life. I choose to believe that he is free from all of his earthly troubles, issues, grievances, sadness and turmoil and that we will always be together, no matter if we inhabit these human suits or not. Our love and our bond is unbreakable.
Being on the farm after losing Tronn made me contemplate life a lot more than usual and helped me get back in touch with our farm roots and the community we grew up in.
I took long sunset walks down dirt roads, spent entire afternoons and evenings with cousins (which I hadn't done in decades!), listened to the birds and the crickets, got dirty doing yard work, chased tractors with my camera (photography has always been my therapy), had coffee for hours with my Great Aunt and took drives with my cousin Brad down the dirt roads I used to know like the back of my hand. I felt like growing things in dirt and envied those of my friends and family who stayed to build a life there. My brother loved our farm and that is where I feel most connected to him.
Lilacs from our tree from me and a John Deere Green solar light from Dad for Tronn.
It was tough to be there at times because of all the memories I have of him and it saddens me so much that we won't spend anymore time there together. But I decided to make the choice to be happy and enjoy my time there by doing all things that he would have loved to do too and stop dwelling so much on the sad parts of his life. I am choosing to remember the good times and to keep his memory alive by reminiscing with the people who loved him. I know that he would want Dad and I to get as much joy out of the time we have left here as we can.
I have a knowing inside, like I did when our Mom passed, that he is with me on those dirt roads, singing along to our favourite tunes and giggling with me at how terrible our singing voices are!
Vita Mutatur Non Tollitur. Life is changed, not taken away.
Tronn's happy place - farming with Dad (left)
The love and support we felt from the community of Birch Hills and beyond, was overwhelming and so many of our friends and fam really made so much effort to carry my Dad and I through this via writing, calling, texting, social media and dropping by the house. Words can't describe how much it all meant to us. Every card, letter, email, text and FB comment did not go unnoticed and helped to ease the pain.
I will end with the letter I recited to my brother at his funeral as well as the slideshow I made to one of his favourite songs, “Dirt” by Florida Georgia Line.
You know you came from it, and someday you'll return to it.
Tronn Tomtene Photo Tribute
Letter to my Brother
I would just like to take this moment to acknowledge everyone who supported and rooted for Tronn along the way, in particular Candice Sinotoski, the Tomtene family, Wes Phillips, the Hagen family, Clayton Pavelich, Rachel Parker, Ryan Cockwill, Daxton Yont and so, so many more, you know who you are and we thank you so much for everything.
To my big bro...Tronn, Fron, as our little cousin Scott Njaa called you, Nnort, as Mom called you - Tronn spelled backwards, Schnuppin, as Dad, Uncle Don, Vern and Stan called you and RoboTronn, MegaTronn and TK as various friends called you…and a few others nicknames I can’t mention here;)
I know you are here beside me and here in my heart. Despite how different we were, in many ways, we were exactly alike.
I felt like sometimes we were so in tune, that I understood you more than I even understood myself at times. And others, I felt like I didn't know you at all. Regardless, my love for you never wavered and I cherished the kinship we had as brother and sister.
I sensed how deeply you felt things from a young age. Your heart was so soft that you used to feel sorry for the garbage we took to the burning barrel!
I must have always felt you needed some extra protection. In Elementary school, when word got out on the playground that the school bully was picking on you, without a thought, I ran up behind him and gave him a swift kick between the legs, just as the school bell rang and ran for dear life to the door where I knew Mr. Galambos was waiting to save me from certain death!
I look back now and know he picked on you because he knew how gentle you were and that he could get away with it.
I have been struggling with so many emotions since we said goodbye. I am trying to find peace in the fact that you don't have to suffer anymore but I still wish you were here and that I could have saved you somehow. If only I had just said the exact right thing at the right time or made you feel just a little more loved, could it have changed this outcome? Through your struggles, I felt like no matter what I did to try and help you in your life, we always ended up in the same place.
What I know for sure, is that your character was strong and that this disease was a fight that is very hard to win. No one could really know the turmoil going on inside of you on a constant basis or what it felt like to be you.
You were a warrior. When I think of the things you went through in your lifetime and the strength that you had to have to endure it all, I am in awe.
I know that I am so heartbroken thinking about how lonely you were at times and that you didn't feel loved. I hope that now, you can see how many people did love you and wanted nothing but happiness and wellness for you.
I know how much you cherished your family and friendships and how much their support meant to you.
I know how much love you had in your heart for not only us but random strangers you felt sorry for on the street.
I know you wanted to find someone to love and have children of your own someday.
I know you were trying. I know you wanted to be well. I know you had a thirst for life and had so many hopes and dreams, but just as many demons.
I know that if I ever needed help of any kind and you were able to give it, you would.
I know that you felt your pain and sorrow so deeply that it was hard to let it go and heal from it.
I know that I will never get over losing you.
I know that I am so grateful for the time that you and Dad and I got to spend together these last few years as a family. I will look back on these times as some of the best of my life.
I know that I will miss you making fun of my hippy lifestyle and I teasing you about your big belly.
I know that growing up with you was a privilege. When I think of our childhood, I think of “Bladley and Blian” Mitchell, Regan Quayle, dirt bikes, summers at Waskesui Lake, riding our little Kitty Kat ski-doo, 3-wheelers, 4-wheelers and skateboards. Making home videos of air bands with our cousins and friends in full hair band make up, banging our heads to Quiet Riot, cruising around in your Impala and singing at the top of our lungs to Nirvana.
I know that you will forever be in my heart and that not a day, not an hour, not a minute will go by that I won't feel like I am missing a part of myself that I counted on for so long and that was always there, but I sometimes took for granted.
I know you loved me. I know you loved Dad. I know you fought hard and made mistakes as we all do as human beings.
There were times I had to love you from afar. And times I made all your problems my own.
I know we had a bond so deep that we could look at each other and know exactly what the other was thinking.
I know how much the farm was a part of your whole being. It ran through your veins and in every cell of your body. It was your north star. Your home.
This is not how any of us wanted to see you coming back here. But I know that you are now wherever you want to be. Just like Mom, you will be with me wherever I am now.
I will see you in the wheat fields, feel you in the prairie breeze and hear you in the chirps of the chickadees...and anytime an AC/DC or Metallica song comes on;)
I love and miss you brother. Your song has ended, but your melody will linger forever.
Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
I won't forget you big bro. You taught me a lot and it was a privilege to be your little sis. I MISS YOU. But you can rest now:) Not goodbye, just farewell. <3 br=""> Thank you for reading. My next instalment will be lighter, I promise. Until then, take care and many blessings!
Tronn, Dad and I - Spring, 2015
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.